Selling Your (Great) Ideas

The Hexagon UX Toronto chapter brought the thunder with its second event at Wattpad HQ. Exploring areas such as improvisation, writing skills, storytelling, body language, and facilitation, five expert speakers at Hexagon UX Toronto’s session shared wisdom on how to sell a great idea.

Here, we share with you pearls of wisdom from:

  1. Improv for Designers with Muriel Schvartzman, Product Designer, TWG
  2. UX Writing with Siobhan Özege, Communications Strategist, Re:Sound
  3. Storytelling for Designers with Shiera Aryev, Design Director, Universe
  4. Body Language with Anna Mackenzie, Software Engineer, GrowSumo
  5. Facilitation 101 with Naomi Bower, Design Strategist,

Improv for Designers with Muriel Schvartzman, Product Designer at TWG

Imagine you’re in a meeting with stakeholders, senior leadership, and your boss, and the conversation turns to the latest project on which you worked. Your mind is full of thoughts and ideas, but you haven’t said a word. Sound familiar?

Schvartzman emphasized that most of us can relate to the feeling of becoming frozen when put on the spot, or unsure about when to contribute.

“I felt misunderstood because I was too quiet and people didn’t understand why… I needed something to get me out of my element,” she said.

Her answer to breaking out of her shell was improv.

Muriel sharing her inspiration for Improv for Designers. Photo by Maggie Chan.

Improv theatre seems like something natural to only a special few extroverts, but two techniques she borrows from this improv world — Associated List and the Yes, and… method — have allowed her to let go of the fear of judgement and criticism and instead, roll with the punches and laugh along the way.

Schvartzman encouraged participants to celebrate their wildest thoughts, and to embrace them instead of second-guessing them; this helps break down the mental blocks one may have unknowingly created in exploring new ideas.

The bottom line: UX professionals should focus on thinking on their feet, embracing ideas and championing them by feeding their confidence, not their doubts.

UX Writing with Siobhan Özege, Communications Strategist at Re:Sound

In her session, Özege offered tips on owning one’s own expertise through effective communication.

With verbal or written communication, just as is in Design, the onus is on the communicator to ensure audience understanding. All who focus on the User Experience space should communicate in a manner that’s accessible, useful, credible, and provide value to the audience.

Accessibility to information is about removing barriers. Instead of trying to sound smart, for example, experts should act in ways that help their team grow and reach its goals. Avoiding technical jargon is an easy way to achieve shared understanding — and the first step to cutting through jargon is understanding what it all means. Going the extra mile to understand their fellow experts’ level of knowledge will allow UX professionals to achieve a shared wavelength and determine how to explain things to them in a manner that’s useful.

“I’ve seen designers show wireframes to bosses who didn’t understand it. To adapt, [it helps] know who you’re presenting to,” Özege said.

Siobhan teaching Hexagon UX Toronto how to excel as communicators. Photo by Maggie Chan.

Özege shared the tips below, informed by the broken communication channels she had often witnessed in her career:

  1. The little things matter: be consistent in the tense you’re writing in, use punctuation, correct “spellung,” and “grimmar”
  2. “Understand what you’re going to sound like by reading it out loud”
  3. Use a peer review system to have a buddy check your work
  4. Write less than what you thought you needed; less is more!
  5. Be yourself— it draws people in. When you’re excited, your body language says so and this translates into energy that can propel you and your team.

Read more on UX Writing below:

Storytelling for Designers with Shiera Aryev, Design Director at Universe

Selling one’s ideas is also about crafting a convincing story. Shiera Aryev, one of Hexagon UX Toronto’s chapter leads, swears by it. She says that whether it was pitching startup ideas and winning a pitch competition, or getting buy-in from stakeholders for her design team, it has been a critical ingredient for success in her career.

Inspiring one’s audience is a key component to great storytelling; often this inspiration comes from identifying why something is important, and what the story’s goals are. This helps bring structure to one’s story, which in turn makes it compelling.

Here’s how to start:

  1. Build a narrative that starts with a hook; your audience needs to be bought in to why they should be interested in your story. What happened that makes this story worth telling?
  2. Once you have a solid introduction, introduce the fight in the story. What struggle did you need to overcome? If you can introduce a conflict, your audience will become more invested in the story.
  3. Finally, share the ending. What solution did you arrive at that makes the story worth telling?

A Hexagon UX Toronto community member sees what is “in the cards” for her at Selling Your (Great) Ideas. Photo by Maggie Chan.

Body Language with Anna Mackenzie, Software Engineer at GrowSumo

A storyteller’s words and body language tell a story in tandem, but often nerves get the best of us. Because these nerves are often the result of inner doubt and anxieties, Anna Mackenzie has focused on keeping them at bay by stepping into a state of power.

Anna led us in a grounding exercise to dispel anxieties related to public speaking. Photo by Maggie Chan.

Grounding is a mindfulness technique one can use to bring balance to one’s body and, in turn, generate peace of mind. It also helps keep the manifestations of shrinking — slouching, side-learning, arms tucked close to the body and head stooped — in check.

Mackenzie shared the following tips for allowing oneself the physical strength and posture that breeds a confident, ready, and fluid mind:

  1. Whether you are standing or sitting, bring your feet shoulder-width apart;
  2. Dig your toes into the ground;
  3. Push into your heels and lift yourself up — feel the support of the ground.

Facilitation 101 with Naomi Bower, Design Strategist,

All too often, group discussions can lead into awkward disagreements and dead ends. To avoid this pattern, one has to know how to keep the group moving in a productive direction — by facilitating, in other words.

“Facilitation helps a group traverse a problem space by arriving at a shared understanding of the problem and a consensus on how to approach the problem,” said Bower to describe this often underrated skill.

Naomi led by example and facilitated a Diverge, Explore, and Converge exercise. Photo by Maggie Chan.

Effective facilitating can be intimidating, but it is a skill than can be learned — especially by turning to one’s existing design toolkit.

  • Starting with the Diverge, explore, converge method, a designer can gather inputs on sticky notes through brainstorming exercises, discuss and find themes in these ideas, and decide collectively on a direction via dot voting.
  • Using the 5 Why’s, one can help identify i) a group’s real goals and ii) a potentially different, but more optimal path to a solution.
  • Finally, using the How might we framework, designers can spark creative thinking by helping groups focus on what is possible, instead of what is feasible.

Read more on Facilitation for Designers below:

Together, we rise

Thank you to all our participants for attending and bringing the high energy and enthusiasm, we look forward to seeing you next time!

To our speakers, thank you for the wisdom you have shared with us.

Hexagon UX is a community built to empower women and non-binary folks, level the playing field, and encourage them to be the best versions of themselves. Join us on Slack, where we are continuing the conversation.

Our Hexagon UX Toronto community members at Selling Your (Great) Ideas, the chapter’s second event! Photo by Maggie Chan.

A big thanks from Hexagon Toronto to our sponsors!

Sell Your (Great) Ideas wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our amazing sponsors.

We would especially like to thank our venue sponsor, Wattpad, for generously welcoming us into their space and helping cover the cost of food.

Next, our annual gold sponsors: TWG and VitaminT, whose support enabled us to print a super cute deck of cards, and all of the amazing signage and extra swag bags!

Lastly, our event sponsors: League, HackerYou, Sketch, and Rosenfeld Media for bringing to life our prizes & giveaways, our beautifully crafted volunteer tees, the free Sketch licenses, speaker thank you gifts, as well as books on storytelling! ❤️

Special thanks to our chapter leads, Shiera Aryev, Andréa Crofts, and Jennifer Zhang, for putting on another incredible event! And of course, to our volunteers, without you this event would not have been possible.

The amazing team at Hexagon UX Toronto‘s second event, Selling Your (Great) Ideas.